2024 India – Part 4 – Rajasthan

A revisit to the country of kings…

The day started early as I did not want to miss my train. I could have had a sleep-in though as the train was running with a 2 3/4 hour of delay by the time it arrived in Delhi. 

This day also marked the beginning of my trip to Rajasthan, the crown jewel of India.

Seven and a half hours after we departed I arrived in Jaipur, a labyrinth of bazaars, opulent palaces and historic sights. It is also known as the pink city. A great place to start my exploration of Rajasthan.

A short rickshaw ride brought me to my hotel, which without doubt ensured I was in Rajasthan, such a beautiful and charming place. 

After check-in I had drink and a call with Vladi, another day had finished.So much looking forward to discovering Rajasthan again.

With so many sights to see in Jaipur you would have thought I would start right there, well not exactly. Instead I opted to visit the Chand Baori step well which required a 200km return trip.

The Chand Baori is a step-well built over a thousand years ago in the Abhaneri village of Rajasthan, not an easy landmark to find, thus it is one of the hidden secrets of India!

It is one of the largest step-wells in the world and also one of the most beautiful ones, also it has been used as a film location for Batman, The Dark Knight.

Next to the step-well was a small but interesting temple, called the Harshad Mata Temple.

Two collections of brick to some perhaps but for me it was worth the four hour journey. Back at my hotel I went for a swim and relaxed for the remainder of the day. 

Next morning was the beginning of my sightseeing in Jaipur. I had agreed with Rahul, the rickshaw driver who picked me up at the station two days earlier, for a full day tour of Jaipur and it’s surroundings.

Our first stop was Gatore Ki Chhatriyan, a beautiful Mausoleum which is located in the heart of the City. It contains the stately marble mausoleums (chhatris) of Jaipur’s ruling family. The compound consists of two main courtyards, each crammed full of imposing memorials.

Our next stop was just outside Jaipur and located in the Aravalli Hills. Amber Fort was a monument to the power of the Kachwaha Rajputs and was home to the maharajas and their families. The complex is spectacularly opulent, with splendid mosaics and frescoes, halls decorated with inlaid mirrors, and a particularly glorious set of moulded silver doors.

It was a steep climb up to the fort and although elephants were available for the ride I decided not to as I was aware of the way these gentle creatures are treated. I spent over 2 hours at this magnificent fort whilst Rahul was patiently waiting for me.

On the way back to Jaipur we had a short stop at Man Sagar lake, where in it’s middle the Jal Mahal (“Water Palace”) seems to rise from it like a mirage, although multiple levels remain underwater. 

As I was getting hungry I requested for a break at a restaurant so I could have a bite to eat and a rest.

Next was an inevitable craftsman shop. Over there it was the usual painful show of the salesman showing his carpets and pashminas and a potential buyer who loved what he saw but was clearly not interested in buying. Once I addressed that the salesman rapidly lost interest.

There was supposed to be an extraordinary jeweller in the area but in order to avoid a similar scene I rejected that and requested to go to the window palace. 

Once we arrived over there I had issues with my vision again and felt extremely dizzy, a sign I had enough for the day. I asked to return to the hotel where I slept over two full hours. It had been an exciting day!!!

A quiet evening and a good night of rest did the trick and I was ready for another day of exploring. There were a couple of things in the pink city I wanted to revisit so I took a rickshaw to Jantar Mantar. 

A strange collection of circles, walls and stairs, Jantar Mantar is an early observatory. It was built by Sawai Jai Singh II in the early 18th century in order to predict the movements of the sun, moon and planets with the human eye. I did love to stroll around for a while and see with my own eyes this miracle of ancient technology.

Next to it was the entrance gate of the City Palace Museum, which occupies Jaipur’s City Palace. Built between 1729 and 1732 during the reign of Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, the palace lies at the heart of the city and has been home to the rulers of Jaipur since the 19th century. There were some interesting galleries of all sorts but I must admit I was more interested by the architecture of the place.

Just a short stroll away was Hawa Mahal, better known as the Palace of Winds. The pink façade of the fanciful Hawa Mahal has become the icon of Jaipur. Erected in 1799 by Sawai Pratap Singh, the five-storey-high structure is only one room deep with walls not more than 20 cm thick, designed to enable the ladies of the harem to watch the lively streets below while remaining unseen.

By the time I finished looking around I noticed my back got a bit tense, the price of paying an seven kilo photo-bag in temperatures over 30 degrees. I returned to my hotel for lunch, had a swim and treated myself on a massage, then I went to my room and relaxed. There’s still one more day in Jaipur and I have not figured out yet what I want to do. 

With Amber fort being one of the tourist magnets around Jaipur one might forget there are still two other forts which are widely neglected, a good excuse to go and visit them.

I booked an Uber for 5 hours and not much later we were on the road.

The forbidding hill-top fort of Nahargarh (“Tiger Fort”) stands in what was once a densely forested area near Ranthambhore National Park. Within the looming walls are multiple palaces and courtyards, added by successive rulers. The lavish and ornate Madhavendra Bhavan palace was added by Madho Singh II for his nine queens. I truly enjoyed walking through the labyrinth of countless alleyways. The best however were the breathtaking views over Jaipur.

The legendary “Victory Fort”, Jaigarh, watches over the old capital of Amber from a nearby hill. Connected to Amber Fort, this was a defensive structure that once housed the capital’s treasury. It contains the monumental 50-tonne Jai Van, said to be the world’s largest cannon on wheels. Not much was to be seen besides the cannon but the view over Amber Fort was one I will never forget. It was simply stunning!!!!

We then returned to the outskirts of Jaipur where my driver dropped me at Khole ke Hanuman Ji Temple, a highly religious and at the time I visited peaceful and quiet place. I admired some of the relics and witnessed the devotees pray.

As the next temple I wanted to visit was closed until 5pm I asked to be dropped in the pink city instead so I could stroll through some of the alleyways and watch every day life at the plentiful bazaars. It was indeed one of the highlights of the day.

Finally I took a rickshaw for a short drive to the Albert Museum. The most imposing treasure at this grand museum is one of the world’s largest Persian garden carpets (dating from 1632). The museum also has an extensive collection of paintings dating back to the 1500s. I was extremely surprised though to find an exhibition area of some ancient Egyptian treasures. Unfortunately it was not explained how they ended up over here.

The museum was a perfect way to finish my stay in Jaipur. I really enjoyed revisiting places I had seen before but also to discover new areas. Time to relax and then new adventures were laying ahead.

Next morning I arrived in plenty of time at the railway station and once at the platform I still could sort out the location of my couch. 

With the train having no less than 24 couches it was important to stand at the right position of the platform. With the help of a handy train app and signs on the platform that was a piece of cake. Roughly two hours later I arrived in Ajmer, my next stop.

Ajmer is a Muslim dominant area and this was immediately noticeable when I entered the labyrinth. My hotel was in the centre of it so the chaos started right at my doorstep.

Ajmer is famous for the holy Muslim shrine of Dargah Sharif, the tomb of the great Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti. I wasn’t sure whether I was allowed in so I continued my stroll through the narrow alleyways. I loved it.

I made a short stop to a food mall for a bite to eat after which I continued to the Nasiyan Jain Temple. That contained a large selection of curious art objects. Unfortunately I was not allowed to go into the main and more sacred part of the temple, which I had to respect.

Then I took a rickshaw out of town to the Nareli Jain Temple. It was located in a nice park and there was hardly anyone there. A nice contrast to the rest of the city.

That completed my day and I decided to enjoy a quiet afternoon. Later I went out again for a short stroll and enjoy the evening atmosphere in the hectic bazar before going to sleep.

A short rickshaw ride in the morning brought me to the neighbouring town of Pushkar, a holy town of temples, ghats and whitewashed homes. Pushkar is arrayed around the banks of Lake Pushkar, which is said to have formed when the god Brahma threw a lotus flower to the ground. From bells chiming at dawn to the colourful bazaars, it is a vibrant place to visit; pilgrims are drawn by the town’s Brahma Temple, considered the auspicious to visit.

My hotel was a 10 minute walk outside the center in a very quiet area. The welcome was heartfelt and although being far to early my room was ready for me. As I did not have breakfast yet I decided to enjoy in over here in the garden next to the pool.

Then I headed towards the centre for a stroll around the lake. No fixed plans, I just wanted to enjoy the atmosphere. The difference with Ajmer could not have been bigger. It was colourful, it was vibrant and also very cheerful. Besides attracting pilgrims Pushkar also acts like a magnet for loads of hippies who happily shared a joint or two with the sadhus to start their happy clappy day. Dressed like Indians, acting like Indians, they certainly made a strange and bewildered impression, especially after having enjoyed their joint for breakfast. 

The atmosphere was breathtaking though. I enjoyed a fresh fruit juice at one of the rooftop cafe’s overlooking the lake. During my walk I did not know where to look, flamboyantly couloirs people everywhere, it was truly a dream.

After enjoying some street food I returned to my hotel. After a refreshing swim I headed back to the centre of Pushkar for sunset by the lake. It was magical, some people were playing drums and at the other side of the lake an arti ceremony started after the sun had set

I then went back to the rooftop cafe  where I was earlier to have an oven baked pizza (which was amazingly good) and… a beer. Although Pushkar is officially a dry town ( it is the holy city of God after all) there is a solution for everything.

At the end of the evening there was a power cut in Pushkar so I had to return to my hotel in pitch dark. It’s one of those moments google maps and the torch on my telephone were my best friends…

No better way to see what a city is like than seeing it from a bird eye perspective. On one of the hills overlooking Pushkar the Savatri Mata Temple was built. A long and steep path was leading to it, but next to it was also a ropeway, a much better way to “conquer” the ascend. Whilst in one of the cars my fellow passengers started to sing which surely made it a heavenly ascend.

There were a lot of monkeys around the temple and after having left my shoes behind I was allowed in to witness some ceremonies and a breathtaking view!

Once I returned in the valley I slowly made my way to the bustling town and enjoyed the vibe both in the narrow alleys and at the lakeside. Once again I ended up at a rooftop cafe where I had some refreshing drinks whilst chilling out. It truly was a wonderful afternoon which I enjoyed a lot. 

My stomach was a bit restless though so I returned to the hotel and slept for a couple of hours. I had decided for a quiet evening in but faith decided different for me. 

Whilst sitting in the garden waiting for me dinner I saw all kinds of instruments being carried upstairs to the roof as a musical evening was planned. Always expect the unexpected…

As the party went on quiet late my sleep was far too short for my liking. After breakfast I returned to my room and slept a bit more.

For the remainder of the day I decided to leave my camera behind and just soak up the atmosphere in Pushkar. It turned out to be a lovely and relaxing afternoon. Obviously I ended up at my favourite roof terrace for a “fruit juice” and dinner. It completed a relaxing day.

Another travel date lay ahead. I skipped breakfast and ordered a taxi to Merta City to catch my trialing to Bikaner. My trip was quicker than expected and the train late, therefore I had to wait almost three hours before I could board my train for the three and an half hour trip. I bought some water, settled in the shadow and watched the world go by. I wan not really bothered with the wait as I’d rather be early and avoid last minute stress. And in spite of this being a very quiet station there are always things going on.

The journey to Bikaner passed by quicker than expected and at the railway I was approached by a rickshaw driver who brought me to my guesthouse for a reasonable price. I agreed with him to go on a sightseeing tour the day after. A warm welcome awaited me and I decided to remain at the cozy courtyard for the for the remainder of the evening and relax.

Next morning my rickshaw driver was a bit late but being in India that did not worry me. Our first stop was the Bhandeshwar Jain temple, which is the oldest existing monument in Bikaner belonging to the 15th century. It is dedicated to Sumati Nathalie, the 5th Tirthankara of the Jain religion. The temple has amazing frescos and gold leaf paintings.

Next to it was the Shri Laxminath Temple, which is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and his consort, Goddess Laxmi. It was constructed by Maharaja Rao Lunakaran, between 1504 and 1526 CE. There were a lot of devotees saying their prayers and as once again no photography was allowed inside I admired the atmosphere and left.

We remained in the old city to visit the grand 17th- and 18th-century havelis of Bikaner’s wealthy merchants line the narrow lanes in the vicinity around Rampuria Street. Two of the most ornate are the Rampuria and Kothari havelis, which definitely were worth visiting.

Our next stop was at the town’s most significant landmark, Junagarh Fort was constructed between 1587 and 1593 by the third ruler of Bikaner, Rai Singh. The fort is protected by a 986meter long sandstone wall with 37 bastions, a moat and, most effectively of all, by the forbidding expanse of the Thar Desert. Not surprisingly, it has never been conquered, a fact that explains its excellent state of preservation. I loved wandering around it for an hour or so before we went to a tea stall for a short break.

Then we continued to the Laxmi Nina’s Palace, which is a former residential palace of the king of the former Bikaner State. It is now converted to a luxury hotel but also housed a small but interesting museum.

One would have thought it was enough for a day but my driver wanted to go on, which was fine to me. Our next stop were the Royal Cenothaps at Devi Kund Sagar. I really enjoyed this serene and pretty collection of monuments, located on the outskirts of town, far from the hustle and bustle of Bikaner city. The structures are impressive and I pretty much had the whole place to myself.

Not far away was a bizarre temple, Wesnodow. I had to enter through a lions mouth and the place looked more like an obscure Disney place than a temple. As the stones were far too hot (I was barefooted after all) I decided not to climb the artificial mountain to the main deity but left after a quick glimpse hurrying to my sandals for some relief from the heat.

My driver kept the “best” for last; the 17th-century Karni Mata Temple in the village of Deshok. It is also known as the Rat Temple. This is because of the thousands of rats that swarm around the temple and its precincts. The rats are considered sacred and to be good luck and are fed sweets and milk by the priests and visitors, who believe that they are reincarnated holy men. Today must have been a very auspicious day as I was lucky enough to see two white rats, which are considered to be a sign of good luck.

One hour later we returned at my guesthouse, time for a refreshing shower and a well deserved beer. It had been a long but also extremely interesting day.

After breakfast Yogesh, my rickshaw driver picked me up again and we headed for another day of sightseeing. There was some confusion initially about the trip as he had planned to take me on a 150 km ride to three spots around Bikaner. That was all a bit too much for me as I did not feel like travelling such a distance in a noisy and rather uncomfortable rickshaw. So we agreed to do just one spot.

As the Shiv Bari temple was closed yesterday Yogesh added that to the list. The temple, dedicated to lord Shiva, was constructed by Maharaja Dungar Singh in the 19th century. There were some puja’s (prayers) going on which made it an interesting place to see.

Then we started the 25km journey to the Kodamdeshwar, an open temple dedicated to Bheuji which isn’t truly one of it’s kind. It looked rather bizarre at first instance but it became even more weird once the offerings started and a protest placed large amounts of food in the mouth of the statue, only to take it out not much later and repeat the procedure with another amount of food, brought by devotees.

To add to the weirdness Yogesh told me it was customary to drink a beer behind the temple at the lakeside. We shared a bottle and I made sure to drink most of it, he had to bring me home after all.

Back in Bikaner I requested to go to a vegetable market, always a rewarding place for me to see the true spirit of everyday India. I wasn’t disappointed. 

Although Yogesh had promised me to introduce me to his wife, child and family that did not work out in the end. Either he had forgotten it or was somehow disappointed I shortened our tour. Back at the guesthouse I just relaxed for the reminder of the afternoon and listened to some music. It was good to let things be for a couple of hours, just to recover from all impressions. 

Next day I felt a bit tired so I decided to start with a relaxing morning, listen to some music and do nothing at all whilst I just enjoyed the serene atmosphere at the courtyard of my guesthouse. 

In the afternoon I took a rickshaw to the national research center on camels, a unique farm which is one if it’s kind in Asia, well that is how it was advertised anyway. The whole area was rather dull and uninteresting and going on a camel safari the next couple of days this visit was truly obsolete. The adjacent museum was even more boring and uninspired. Still a nice breakaway from a relaxing day. While travelling for two months one has to experience something like this to appreciate the true highlights.

Next morning was an early rise as I had to catch a train to Jaisalmer, 330 kilometres in 3rd class. I took a rickshaw to the station, bought my 1,30 Euro ticket and made my way to the platform just to fine out the train was delayed by more than an hour. There was plenty of things going on at the platform though so I could not be bothered. 

By the time the train arrived the people started to rush to the doors so I really had to force my way in and find a seat. That worked out and there was even space underneath to store my suitcase. To be honest the 6 hour journey was much more comfortable than I had expected and I even managed to have a short nap.

Nothing is better after a long journey to arrive at a new city and being blown away by the first looks of the hotel. I’m staying in an old Haveli (merchant’s house) which looks absolutely fantastic and well taken care off. My room is an absolute dream and after a refreshing shower I went to the rooftop restaurant to chill for the rest of the day.

Although I had a good night sleep I did not feel very well so after breakfast I returned to my room for another nap. That did the trick.

After my second  shower of the day it was time to start my exploration. Today a remote outpost in the Thar Desert, Jaisalmer, founded in the 12th century, was once a busy trade centre on the caravan route to Central Asia. Its rulers grew rich by looting the caravans, but by the 1500s Jaisalmer had become a peaceful town, its wealthy inhabitants competing with each other to beautify their austere desert surroundings with splendid palaces.

A place that cannot be missed whilst in Jaisalmer and which was dominantly visible from the rooftop terrace of my hotel is the Jaisalmer Fort, which rises like a fabulous mirage out of the sands of the Thar Desert, the awesome contours of its 99 bastions softened by the golden hue of the stone. Built in 1156 by Maharawal Jaisal, and added to by his successors, this citadel stands on the peak of the 80 meter high Trikuta Hill.

It was only a short walk but with the temperature coming close to 40 degrees I felt it took ages to get to the main gate. A steep and slippery road led me up to the labyrinth from one of the few living forts in the world. It was a vibrant and colourful place. Merchants spread out their goods in the narrow streets and everywhere something was going on.

I decided to go on a walkabout without fixed plan and somehow I still managed to find the beautiful Jain temple that lies somewhere hidden in the fort. Actually it’s a group of seven temples built by yellow sandstone in Dilwara style during the 12th to 16th century. They are famous for their intricate carvings. 

Time was flying by quickly so I decided to find a nice place for a light lunch and a good view over the entrance gate. After that I continued my walkabout and ended up at the so called canon city viewpoint. I enjoyed the view and then moved back into the labyrinth for a while after which I decided to take a rickshaw back to my hotel for another shower and another nap. It had been an interesting but also exhausting afternoon.

After the fort, Jaisalmer’s havelis are its greatest attraction, with their golden stone façades so finely carved that they could be made of lace. Built in the 19th century by the town’s merchants and ministers, these mansions dominate its labyrinthine lanes. Several generations of an extended family lived together in these huge mansions.

So today I decided to visit the three most beautiful ones. The first one was the Nathmal Ki Haveli, which is an inhabited building like any common residence having a beautiful carved exterior façade. I was only allowed only onto the ground floor but got a good impression of this beautiful house.

Not much further were the Patwa Havelis. Built in the first half of the 19th century, Patwa Haveli is a cluster of five havelis (mansions) in the heart of Jaisalmer. These havelis were built by one of the city’s prosperous merchants, Guman Singh Patwa. The grandly constructed residences fell into disrepair as Guman Singh’s wealth dwindled, till they were taken over by the Archaeological Survey of India in 1974 and restored to their present condition. 

The main haveli known as Kothari’s Patwa Haveli has been turned into a museum famous for its architecture, interiors, and artefacts depicting the lifestyle and heritage of Jaisalmer’s merchants. I was wonderful to stroll through the small corridors and admire the many rooms which were now redecorated and gave a good impression of 

The era from Guman Singh Patwa. I loved it.

Next to it was another Haveli which was empty. Still it was nice to dwell through it, especially as I was the only one making the effort to visit it, compared to the Kothari’s Patwa Haveli which was very crowded.

By this time the heat had become overwhelming and must have easily reached 40 degrees if not beyond.  As there was a camel safari planned later on today I decided to return to my hotel for a second shower and a rest. This is truly the first time I am affected so much by the heat but I am glad I’ve learned to adapt and slow down whenever my body asks for it.

Because of the heat the safari was postponed by an hour, a wise decision indeed. Uka, my driver brought me first by jeep to Kuldhara, an a banded village. The next stop was  the Jassery oasis where some women and children danced by the waterside. A magical experience. Next and final stop was a short visit to Khabarovsk Fort, which was really in the middle of nowhere.

One hour later we arrived at the spot where the camel driver was waiting for us. My camel was a bit irritated at first but fortunately his driver kept him under control so I could enjoy the ride. It was a rather uncomfortable drive, at least if you are not used to it, but one hour later we arrived at our overnight camp in the Thar desert, on top of some lovely sand dunes.

It turned out to be the perfect spot to watch the sun setting whilst my dinner was being freshly cooked on a bonfire and I was enjoying a cold Kingfisher they had brought for me.

What a lovely evening and with it being full moon there was plenty of light to see the surroundings but also the starts. My bed had been prepared with fresh bedding on top of a sanddune. The view over the desert was simply breathtaking and that. Night I went to bed with an enourmous smile in my face.

Next morning I was woken up by my driver who was bringing me a cup of tea. Another moment I will never forget, the sun was already set and magical colours filled the air.

After breakfast we returned for the 2 hour drive back to the hotel. I was offered anther camel ride but decided one had been enough for my already sour bones. Back at the hotel I took a refreshing (and badly needed) shower after which it was time for another nap. 

Later on  headed to the fort for the madness that is called Holi. It’s is a popular and significant Hindu festival celebrated as the Festival of Colours, Love, and Spring. It celebrates the eternal and divine love of the deities Radha and Krishna. Additionally, the day signifies the triumph of good over evil, as it commemorates the victory of Vishnu as Narasimha over Hiranyakashipu.

I witnessed Holi twice before and both time were a complete feast. This time was no different and it did not take long before I was covered in the first loads of colour, Everybody was happy and extremely joyful. Drums were played everywhere in the narrow streets of Jaisalmer and loads of people were singing whilst covering each other in a wide range of colours.

In the fort things even became more extreme and one hardly could see a person walking by who at least was not covered somehow in bright colours. Kids were playing with water guns, it all appeared a bit surreal but funny, of so funny. I thoroughly enjoyed my walk and it seemed I was changing colours all the time, like the people around me.

Back at the hotel I took a shower, only to find out that at least I needed one or two more to get rid of all colours. But hey, this is India. For sure I won’t be the only one tomorrow who is left with traces from what must be the most colourful and joyful festival in the world. One day you find yourself sleeping in the middle of the desert under a strary sky. A couple of hours later you walk through the streets of an ancient city whilst being covered in tons of different colours. India never ceases to amaze.

Next morning there was a serene strange atmosphere in town. People looked their usual selves and streets were being given a big clean to get rid of most of the coloured powder. It was also more quiet in the streets than otherwise, perhaps people were having a sleepin after a night of partying.

There was one thing in Jaisalmer that I had not seen yet which was the Gadisagar Lake. This rainwater reservoir, built in 1367, was once the city’s sole source of water and is lined with ghats and temples. The gateway leading to the tank was built by a royal courtesan, Telia, whose audacity so enraged the queens that they demanded its demolition. The quick-witted Telia had a statue of Krishna installed on top, thereby ensuring that the gateway would stand.

It was a 20 minute walk in the already roaring morning heat. Seeing the place I was a bit underwhelmed to be honest, I had better memories from it from my first visit in 2009. It had been a welcome walk anyway and slowly I made my way back to the hotel where I relaxed for some hours whilst waiting for my train.

Although we left in time by the time we arrived in Jodhpur, 300km further on, we had a delay of almost an hour. I took a rickshaw towards my hotel but as it was in the centre of the old blue city I had to walk the last bit as even a rickshaw could not pass the narrow streets. 

I was blown away by the 350 year old building at first sight. Everything breathed history, the hallway, the room, only the bathroom was brought to modern standards. After I enjoyed a beer at the rooftop terrace overlooking the mighty fort I went back to my room, had a refreshing shower and my daily video all with Vladi. Another day had come to an end.

Whilst I was having breakfast at the rooftop terrace of my hotel I could simply not ignore the fort that was rising high above from where I was sitting. No wonder I choose it as the first place to visit for today.

However instead of taking a rickshaw the long way round I decided to climb the rock, descend again into the blue city and enter the fort from it’s oldest gate, the one originally used to provide access to the fort. A steep path lead the way and although I got lost a couple of times I finally made it to the gate from where another ascend started.

Described as the creation of angels, fairies and giants, Mehrangarh is perhaps the most majestic of Rajasthan’s forts. Rising sheer out of a 125 metre high rock, Mehrangarh’s forbidding ramparts are in sharp contrast to the flamboyantly decorated palaces within, where rooms are inlaid with gold and jewels. 

Founded by Rao Jodha in 1459, the sandstone fort was added to by later rulers, mostly between the mid-17th and mid-19th centuries. The royal apartments within the fort now form part of an outstanding museum, justly regarded as the finest palace museum in Rajasthan.

And it was beautiful indeed. I wandered through the small corridors and decorated rooms for more than two hours before I sat down in one of the cafe’s for a refreshing drink.

From where I was sitting I could see the Jaswant Thada, a cenotaph which was built by Maharaja Sardar Singh of Jodhpur State in 1899 in memory of his father, Maharaja Jaswant Singh II, and serves as the cremation ground for the royal Rajput family of Marwar

That was my next stop of the tour and d in order to get there I got a Tuk Tuk. I loved the place a lot and hang around for a while before I returned to my Tuk tuk who brought me to the Mandore Garden.

By now temperatures had crossed 40 degrees a in the shade and that was having an impact on me. I felt dizzy and my sight went completely blur, like an overdeveloped film. I tried to sit down in the shade and recover from it but that did not work out well. So instead of entering the garden I asked my driver to bring me back to my hotel where I slept for a couple of hours. That worked out much better and I decided to stay inside during the reminder of the day to escape from the heat.

After a good night sleep and a refreshing shower I moved to the roof terrace, noticing that the temperatures were already sky rocket high.

I was picked up my guide for an hour and a half walk of the blue city. Although he did not have a lot of interesting stories to tell about the ancient part of Jodhpur he definitely know some scenic spots. The narrow alleys kept most of the day heat out but still I felt it was a rather tiring walk.

When we returned at my hotel I decided to have a short nap and recover from the morning exercise. Then I walked towards an area where the alleys were wide enough for Tuk Tuks to get through. I stopped an empty one and negotiated a price to bring me to the Mandore Garden. Today I felt much better than yesterday so I started my stroll through the gardens It was a nice, quiet place to relax after the busy city of Jodhpur and the cenotaphes were beautiful.

It did not take me long however before the heat hit me again so I kept my walk short and headed for a restaurant I had seen outside for lunch and a very well deserved cocktail. In total I spent over two hours over there in the comfort of an air conditioned room.

Another Tuk Tuk ride brought me back to the old city where I visited the Toorji Ka Jhalra. This stepwell was built in the 1740s and was submerged for decades. Its recent restoration uncovered over 200 hundred feet of hand carved treasure. One could walk down the steps but feeling my dizziness coming up again I decided that to be too tricky. 

There were plenty of shops and restaurants in the area and I really needed another break and a refreshing lemon soda before I walked the remaining 800 meters to my hotel. Another day had come to an end and instead of going out again I just relaxed at the rooftop terrace before calling it a day.

In the dry and arid landscape around Jodhpur lies a unique and ecologically conscious community known as the Bishnoi community. The Bishnoi people are known for their deep-rooted love for nature and wildlife. Today, these people stand as the best example of the harmony between humans, animals and nature. The Bishnoi community dates back to the 15th century. These people follow the steps of Guru Jambheshwar, who was a visionary saint and the founder of the Bishnoi sect. He came up with 29 principles, which taught them about the way of living.

And that was exactly where I headed today to do something completely different away from the hustle and bustle from busy Jodhpur. I slowly walked towards the clock tower where 

I had an appointment with my guide. 

From there it was an hour jeep ride to one of the villages. I was shown around and told about their way of living and an opium ceremony was performed. The Bishnoi people, due to their customs are the only ones in Rajasthan to legally own a small amount of opium in each village (5 grams max.). I was offered a small zip of diluted opium water which was prepared during the ceremony and accepted it, only after being told it would have no effect. It was rather bitter and it’s taste came close to liquorice.

Next we went to Salawas, the weaver’s village. Here, durry or rugs were woven out of cotton or wool. These people use primitive forms of weaving. An interesting place to visit indeed.

My guide then dropped me off at the Umaid Bhawan Palace. This immense palace, built of creamy-pink sandstone and marble, has 347 rooms, including eight dining halls, two theatres, a ballroom and a vast underground swimming pool. A 60 meter dome covers the cavernous central hall, which, at its inauguration, seated 1,000 people for dinner. It is now divided into three parts, a luxury hotel, a museum and private residency.

Next I went to a restaurant in the area for lunch after which I returned to my hotel. I really needed an afternoon nap, it had been another exciting day.

The original plan was to take a bus from Jodhpur to Udaipur but as there were two sites I wanted to see I opted for plan B and took a taxi instead which enabled me to visit both places on the way to Udaipur.

After a two hour drive we arrived at the valley of the Aravalli Hills, where the magnificent Ranakpur Jain temple is located. The 15th-century temple complex, dominated by the great Adinath Temple, is one of the five great holy places of the Jain faith. The grand scale and sheer architectural complexity of this white marble temple distinguish it as perhaps the single most impressive example of Western Indian temple architecture. The temple has an unusual four-sided plan, with four separate entrances. Each entrance leads through a veritable forest of columns, and a number of beautifully ornamented halls and chapels, to the central sanctum containing a four-faced image of Adinath.

There was a reason why I wanted to visit this place as I remember I was blown away by it during my first visit in 2009 and it didn’t disappoint this time. I adored the beautiful carvings , witnessed some prayers going on and enjoyed the atmosphere at the temple, although there were definitely more tourists around then last time. 

On the way to the second place we stopped for lunch after which the trip was continued. We were now in a rather hilly area and the vegetation was completely different than in the lower plains of Rajasthan. 

The ramparts of Kumbhalgarh Fort wind along the rugged contours of the Aravalli Hills for 36 km. and these were the first things I saw before I got a glimpse of the fort itself. 

This massive 15th-century fort, located at a height of 1,050 meter, along the border between Marwar (Jodhpur region) and Mewar (Udaipur region), was known as “The Eye of Mewar”, because it offered a commanding view of the countryside for miles.

I was extremely happy it wasn’t that warm as it was a long steep climb to the top which lead me past no less than seven fortified gates, studded with threatening spikes. Finally I made it to the highest point inside the fort, where the Badal Mahal, a 19th-century palace was located with airy chambers and fine wall paintings of hunting scenes. It had taken me me several stops before I got there but the views were extremely rewarding. 

Then I descended again towards the 15th-century Neelkantha Temple, which also lies within the fort, it has a huge Shiva linga and is still in use. Unfortunately it was closed by the time I got there so I just drank a fresh coconut at one of the stalls outside the temple before returning to my taxi and we started on our final two hour journey to Udaipur.

We arrived just before sunset so I good get a good first impression of the city. As my driver was from Udaipur he had no issues manoeuvring to the crowded streets straight to my home stay.

A heartfelt and warm welcome awaited me and after I checked in I sat on the spacious rooftop terrace. Not much later my host joined me and we engaged in a nice conversation. Time flew by quickly so I made my daily phonecall to Vladi and fell asleep very pleased, ready for my last destination in Rajasthan.

Next morning my host brought me to Lake Pichola, on of the highlights of the city. The first thing I did over there was to visit the Jagdish temple, a large Hindu temple just outside the royal palace. It has been in continuous worship since 1651 and was a nice place to visit.

Then I went to the City Palace, a visit that would take me almost all day. Beautifully situated on the shores of Lake Pichola, the Udaipur City Palace is an iconic monument in this waterside city. The palace was the centre of power of Mewar, the kingdom ruled by the Sisodia dynasty. Behind the fortified walls, with their rows of arched windows and intricate turrets, lies a maze to explore.

The City Palace complex is a miniature kingdom of royal apartments, reception halls and courtyards, linked to each other by narrow passages and steep staircases. The main attraction within the complex is the superb City Palace Museum. Spread out over several palaces, the museum is entered through the imposing Tripolia Gate, built in 1713.

I remember last time in 2009 when I aborted the tour as it was so extremely cramped I almost became schizophrenic. Today it was less crowded so I could complete the tour at east. 

Next I made a boat excursion over lake Picholla which showed Udaipur from an extremely picturesque point of view. We sailed passed the Floating Taj Lake Palace which most people will recognise from once of the scenes in James Bond Octopussy. 

Then we stopped at Jag Mandir, a palace built on another island in Lake Picholla, which is also called the “Lake Garden Palace”.Its construction is credited to three Maharanas of the Sisodia Rajputs of the Mewar kingdom.

I decided to stay there a while, enjoy lunch and a chilled beer. It was ridiculously overpriced but I knew that ahead from my last visit and one needs to go for a treat once in a while.

A short boat ride later I was back at the back of the palace and then headed towards the old city at the other side of it. My plan was to make a stroll over there but I noticed the day had been a bit tiring for me and it would be better to take a Tuk Tuk towards the hotel again for a rest. 

It had been a busy day and as I had two full more days around Udaipur there was no reason to rush things.

When one thinks of Rajasthan one thinks of forts. There was one fort I still wanted to visit and it was only 120 kilometre away from Udaipur. So I rented a taxi for a day to maker the trip.

Chittorgarh Fort is one of the most famous forts in India. Not only because of its gigantic structure, also because it has witnessed the history for Centuries. Chittorgarh Fort is considered as unbreakable and immiscible.

Needless to say, the Fort has had a tumultuous past. This bastion of the Rajput’s has faced violent attacks thrice in its entire history. The first was in 1303 when the Sultan of Delhi, Ala-ud-din-Khilji, who was enamored by Queen Padmini, launched an attack to abduct her. More than two centuries later, in 1533, it was Bahadur Shah, the Sultan of Gujarat, who caused immense destruction. Four decades later, in 1568, Mughal Emperor Akbar attacked and seized the fort. It was finally in 1616, under the rule of Mughal Emperor Jahangir that the fort was returned to the Rajputs.

I entered through the 7 gates, paid my entry ticket and was extremely happy to have a  available as the distance between the several sights were simply to large to cover on foot, especially in this heat.

Within the fort there were several palaces and temples to be visited, one was even more interesting than the other. It truly was an amazing place to visit and I was extremely happy I made the effort.

In spite of the larger distances covered by taxi I still had to walk quite a bit, a . Halfway during the afternoon we finished most places of the fort and we started our return to Udaipur. We were still to visit some cenotaphs but I felt I had seen enough for the day and asked to return to the hotel straight away where I slept for quite a while. Another exciting day had come to an end.

My last day in Udaipur, my last day in Rajasthan. The closing of another chapter….

I decided to go on a walkabout and just follow my heart without any fixed idea of where I was going. I took a rickshaw to the Jagdish Temple, a large Hindhu temple in the middle of Udaipur, just outside the royal palace. It has been in continuous worship since 1651. 

Loud music and singing was coming from the main shrine so I decided to have a look what was going on. The Jagdish Temple is raised on a tall terrace and to reach the main shrine, I had to climb 32 marble steps, intercepted by a Brass image of Garuda in the end, being the mount of God Vishnu.

Inside a prayer session for Krishna was going on and I must admit I got goosebumps from the vibe and strong spirituality that was in the air. I stayed a while to enjoy the atmosphere and then descended the 32 marble steps again and collected my shoes.

Then I just followed my heart past the narrow streets of old Udaipur, watching the shops and market stalls. It was truly lovely. I stopped for a while at one of the ghats and had something to drink in one of the many cafe’s. 

There was a footbridge that I could cross to the other side of the lake and immediately I liked the atmosphere in that area. It was rather touristy but rather quiet and pleasant. As I was getting a bite dizzy I found a nice restaurant at the waterside for lunch and remained there relaxing for another two hours or so.

Finally I took a rickshaw back to my hotel and slept for some hours. I was extremely pleased with my tour through Rajasthan but also noticed my energy levels are going down much faster than in the beginning of my trip. It’s been an intense and incredible wonderful experience but the time has come to listen to my body a bit more seriously. 

Continue to Part 5 Maharashtra – Old and new discoveries